“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Darren looked worriedly at his elder brother. “If we get caught spying on them again…”
“It’ll be worth it,” Morteus crept forward, hoping that none of the servants would notice them.
“Okay… If you say so…” They tiptoed in silence towards the great hall and hid behind the banisters as Captain Vailos passed by.
“Boys, don’t mess around,” the elderly captain walked past without looking at them.
Darren and Morteus let out a relieved sigh and continued forward. They took cover behind the fire escape door of the great hall, and peeked in through the glass panel.
Morteus’ knuckles clenched into a fist. They were there.
“I can’t hear them,” Darren frowned, vexed.
Morteus looked through the glass panel again and spotted a long banquet table before the throne that his father was perched on.
“We can go there,” he pointed.
Darren nodded and pushed the creaking door open.
“Stop,” Morteus muttered as he pointed to King Periphral, who had stopped talking and was looking in their direction.
“We’d better just stay here,” he whispered, lodging his foot between the door, and listening closer. He pressed his ear against the door.
“Yes, I know,” King Periphral sounded troubled.
“Cardiza is abundant with grassy meadows and rippling streams, and all the oil underneath…” Darius trailed off.
“Yes, yes… That’s right,” King Periphral said absently.
“And the strategic location…” Darius’ eyes glistened.
“Mmm…” King Periphral murmured.
“What’s wrong with you?” Darius suddenly burst out loud, seeing that King Periphral’s attention was elsewhere. Morteus stuck his head in the crack of the door upon hearing raised voices.
“Huh?” King Periphral broke out of his momentary trance. “Nothing… Nothing…”
Darius knew better. “It’s Morteus, isn’t it?” His eyes blazed. “He always gets in the way- always!”
“No- No, of course not!” King Periphral was shocked by his outburst.
“That’s what everyone says!” Darius threw his hands up in the air. “Of course you’d say Morteus doesn’t get in the way! You love him!”
“He’s- he’s my son, of course I do!” Anger radiated from King Periphral. He pointed a shaking finger at the door. “He’s somewhere out there now, spending his birthday in misery, and here we are, planning an unreasonable attack on Cardiza!”
“He’s your son?” Darius let out a bout of raucous laughter. “We all know he’s not one of us! He flipped his bronze hair back, sneering. “He’s our enemy!” His eyes smoldered in hate and indignation.
Morteus shrunk his head back from the open door in shock. Enemy?
Darren was shell-shocked. “He’s just angry, don’t listen to him,” he patted Morteus’ arm, but his own face was twisted into a horrified expression.
“Enemy?” Morteus repeated blankly.
“He’s spouting nonsense,” he tried soothing Morteus, but to no avail.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Morteus jerked back to look at the now enraged king, the word enemy reverberating inside his head.
“Don’t say that!” King Periphral’s voice was tainted with fury. “He’s not our enemy! How could you say that of your own brother?”
“My brother?” Darius sneered derisively. “He’s the son of our old enemy! And now he’s trying to ruin our plans to attack Cardiza!” Darius was delirious. “I don’t know why you’ve kept him for all these years, father. There’s so much bad blood between us… He’s better off dead!”
Morteus withdrew his head, and his eyes widened with shock, confusion, anger, and an array of other emotions.
“Better off dead?” Morteus repeated, the words echoing in his eardrums.
Darren stood there, his expression frozen in shock. “No… It can’t be… I don’t believe it…”
“Better off dead?” Morteus said it louder, and Darren pulled him away from the door before someone could hear.
Morteus blinked. He grasped at loose ends, and tried to make out what was happening. His world was collapsing all around him. It was so irrational, so unconceivable. Then everything began to fall in place. Morteus realized with immobilizing shock that he wasn’t the son of King Periphral.
His brain immediately rejected the idea, but Morteus knew it was true. He had known unconsciously all along, but-
There were times that he felt as though he were different. His entire outer appearance was completely unlike his family’s… And the way Darius always behaved towards him…
Morteus wiped away the escalating tears. “I-” He started, not knowing what to say.
“Even if you’re not one of us,” Darren said, panic-stricken, “They wouldn’t kill you! This is preposterous! It’s not-” It sounded like he was trying to appease himself with justifications, but it only made Morteus feel worse.
Then it hit Morteus again. The truth hit him exceedingly more than before. It washed all over him, drenching him from top to toe with dread and chagrin.
“They want me dead,” Morteus’ eyes glazed over.
“No, no, there must be some misunderstanding!” Darren pulled at Morteus’ arm, shocked to hear the words. “Don’t jump to conclusions!”
Morteus snapped out of his reverie. “Let me go!” He said harshly, pulling his arm back.
“No, Morteus! You mustn’t listen to Darius!” Tears were dripping down Darren’s face as he gripped his brother’s arm tighter. “He’s wrong!”
“Let me go!” Morteus tried yanking his arm out of Darren’s grip. Then a tortured expression crossed his face.
“Or… Or do you want to kill me too?” He whispered, his voice cracking in pain.
“No, of course not!” Darren dropped his arm as if he was electrified. Pain and betrayal radiated from his horrified expression.
“That’s what everyone says,” Morteus muttered, pushing past him.
Morteus sprinted past Darren, who was still rooted to the ground in shock. He turned the corner and ran out the main entrance nearly knocking down Commander Violetta.
“Careful, Morteus!” Commander Violetta called out, oblivious to what just transpired.
Morteus darted down the steps. He mounted Majesty and galloped off into the distance, tears flowing relentlessly.
It was without a second glance.